Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I have no statistics, because this is a case-by-case issue, depending on location, the size of the network, and the types of renewables used. I will only raise a few general points instead. (I note this is based on extensive but still an amateur's read-up combined with what I learnt from my father who is in the (traditional) energy sector, so the professionals here might correct me.)

One is that at present levels of renewables in medium-sized countries (e.g. Germany, the UK, France, to some extent importing-from-France Spain, but not mismanaged Italy), already existing excess capacities are enough. The main reason is that excess capacities were built to be capable to jump in when a large power plant, say a four-block nuclear power plant with 3.2 GW, breaks down - and this excess capacity is even ensured on a regional basis. Intermittance fluctuations are of the same magnitude.

Second, as there are economies of scale, renewables intermittance (the part that is not day/night or seasonal), especially short-term fluctuations, is also reduced in a larger system (at the price of transmission losses) - e.g. when whole weather systems are covered, the wind always blows somewhere. This is of a bit limited worth for Europe, with most wind being along the Atlantic Coast that may have low winds on the entire length, but for example for the USA, most of the intermittance could be balanced thus. (BTW, you may check in real-time the intermittance of Spanish wind power here - where I note Spanish wind is strongly concentrated in one small region, into Galicia province which is the part above Portugal. The average level to compare to is around 25% maximum capacity.)

Third, note that different renewables could balance each other's intermittance. Most directly hydro and wind (as already practised to some extent in Scandinavia): hydro would be run at varied rather than constant power to balance wind's intermittance (something that also revitalises floodplains and the river ecosystem downriver), and the water spared during strong winter winds means higher reservoir levels during summer droughts. For a more distant future,  the balancing of solar and wind is another issue: intriguingly, the day/night and weather patterns of these can be combine to give not a constant power, but one roughly following the daily human usage curve!

Fourth, but this again is an issue for later, there are non-ittermittent renewables that could provide excess in the system: tidal and geothermal. I'm a bit sceptical about the former (low total potential, possible danger to marine life); as for geothermal, it is still rather expensive if we disregard non-renewables external costs, but the potential is there (I wrote more on geothermal, again with a focus on Germany, here).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Sep 25th, 2005 at 08:00:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Others have rated this comment as follows:

budr 4


Occasional Series